The last full day in Bangkok was spent exploring Ayutthaya. The city which was founded in the 13th century was the second capital of Siam (ancient name for Thailand). The ideal location (close proximity to India, China and the Malayan archipelago) made it a financial powerhouse in Asia during its glory days in the 17th century. Records have it that the 1700s, the population of the city has swelled to a million; this made Ayutthaya the largest city in the world in terms of people. All of this glory and grandeur came to a halt when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767 and subsequently burned it down.

Today, this city is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok. Remnants of temples, palaces and Buddha statues still exist for tourist to get a glimpse of the glorious past of the city. UNESCO formally recognizes the great cultural value of the ancient city’s ruins when it named Ayutthaya as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

A lot of travel agencies offer day tours going to Ayutthaya; they usually charge something like at least 1,000 BHT. We did it much cheaper by doing a DIY trip. At around 5:30 that morning, we headed out of our hostel and headed to Hualamphong Train Station where we will be taking a 3rd class train going to Ayutthaya. The ticket costing just 20 BHT was the best way to see the countryside near the outskirt of the city. Apart from being dirt cheap, it was a great way to get a glimpse of the life of ordinary Thais. The ride had multiple stops along the way and about an hour later, we arrived in our stop.

3rd Class train ride to Ayutthaya

From the train station, we walked around two hundred meters to reach the riverbanks. A boat was there to ferry people to and from the main island of Ayutthaya (where the ruins are found) – this is not free but you only pay around 5 BHT for the two minute crossing.

mode of transportation to cross the river

Across the river, there were several guesthouses that offered bikes for rental. In Ayutthaya, a good way of exploring the place is to rent a bike and just roam around with your map – not on that day though, we gave up on the biking option as then temperature was probably in the mid 30’s (Celsius). A friendly songthaew driver approached us and offered his service at 400 BHT/hour, I was able to haggle it down to 1,000 BHT for a four hour excursion.

We then started our brief Ayutthaya excursion; I could not exactly remember the names of the temples we visited except for Wat Phra Mahathat in which the famous tree that grew around a Buddha head can be found. It was not too spectacular but I was glad to have finally seen in person the artifact which I always associate Ayutthaya with.

i visited Ayutthaya to pay homage to this...

The temples have individual entrance fees (although some are free as well) for foreigners, this ranges from 20-50 BHT per person. If you can pass for a local, you might be able to get in for free. Coming from someone who has been to Siem Reap twice, the ruins in Ayutthaya was not so spectacular anymore. It is more or less, “same same but different”

head of a very huge reclining Buddha

a snap of the back of a huge sitting Buddha

a bunch of Buddhas with their heads intact

The temperature did not cooperate; in fact it became even hotter after we visited Wat Phra Mahathat. It was then that we decided to head back to Bangkok. Luckily there was a bus that goes straight to the Mochit Terminal in Bangkok; the fare was less than 100 BHT. We paid for it and grabbed the last two remaining seats. I could not remember how long the ride took as I was already asleep as soon as I sat on the air-conditioned bus and only woke up when we arrived in our destination.

Tam the songthaew driver sending me off...

Ayutthaya is a stunning place to visit if you want see what was left of the ancient Siam capital. However, the place may not have a huge awe-impact to you if you have previously visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia previously. My suggestion is that if you have a limited time and you have previously visited (or is planning to visit) Siem Reap, skip Ayutthaya and look for other options to do while in Bangkok. Otherwise, go ahead and visit Ayutthaya and do not miss Wat Phra Mahathat. If you plan to do it on the cheap, it would be best to have at least four people in the group so as to share expenses should you ever want to hire a songthaew or tuktuk.

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Number Twenty Hostel

6 November 2009

Located somewhere in the middle of the orderly chaos that is Jonker Walk is Number Twenty, a mid-range guesthouse that puts much emphasis on the words comfort and style.

This place is a renovated 17th century Dutch mansion that was modified in such a way in order to accommodate as much as 20 guests in either of their double or twin room. All of which comes fully air-conditioned and decorated in a neat minimalist style.

Picture 1

Double Room

Picture 2

Twin Room

Number Twenty is situated within a short walking distance from the old historic Chinese quarters. The historical sights painted in red is just a mere stone throw away, all you have to do is to just cross the bridge. Food is not a problem as there are numerous bars and restaurants within a few minutes away from the hostel doorstep.

IMG_3837

the unassuming doorway of the guesthouse

Despite being located in a very busy location, this guesthouse still managed to make itself a relaxing place by means of the spacious lounge that is located in the 2nd floor of the building. A large floor to ceiling balcony windows opens out to Jonker Walk. I particularly like the very inviting sofa in which you are free to lie down and choose from the following choices: (a) watch TV in their plasma screen, (b) read a book from their travel library, or (c) surf the net by utilizing the in-house WiFi.

Picture 5

the huge lounge in the second floor

I have stayed here previously for a night in 2008; it was still brand new then and very clean. A few weeks ago, I was able to visit this place again and I was very surprise that the place is as beautiful and as clean as it was a year ago. Unfortunately though we were not able to get a room then, as they were fully booked during the Deepavali holiday weekend.

The only thing lacking here is a private toilet for the rooms. Yep, all guests will have to share a common toilet. They make up for it though by cleaning it every now and then just to ensure that it is very clean.

The rate per night for this hostel is pegged at 95 MYR per night (105 MYR for Fridays and Saturdays); I would say that it is not too bad at all considering all the facilities you enjoy. Apart from this, they thrown in a complimentary continental breakfast for two.

After having said everything, I do strongly recommend Number Twenty Hostel. Stay here if you want to have a comfortable home away from home in Malacca. Do not forget to book in advance as room supply is quite limited which makes a successful walk-in on a weekend technically impossible.

Picture 3

find your way to Number Twenty

Number Twenty Guesthouse
20 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Walk) 
Malacca, Malaysia 75200
Tele: +60 62 819761
Fax: +60 62 819761
Mobile : Mr.Zul +60 172137972

An Afternoon in Malacca

25 October 2009

It was pretty much a very smooth bus ride to Malacca. It was so smooth that I was able to sleep for the whole duration of the two-hour trip. When I woke up at quarter past two in the afternoon, the bus was already parking in its assigned platform in Melaka Sentral.

First agenda upon disembarking was to get return tickets back to Singapore for the following day. Initially we were looking for a bus that will take us directly back to Singapore, however most of the tickets were either sold out or the only available seats are the morning trips. Definitely, we don’t want to take an early morning trip back to Singapore as we’ve done it last year and we almost missed the ride. In the end, we settled for a bus back to Johor Bahru that leaves Malacca at 4PM the following day.

It was a very hot afternoon when we arrived; we decided to take an air conditioned taxi to the central part of town instead of the cheaper bus ride. The fare to our destination costs 12 MYR; not your good taxi with very cold aircon but it is better than sweating it out in the heat.

Traffic was horrible that afternoon; the driver explained that it was because of the Deepavali holiday. I would surmise though that given that Malacca is a very popular end of week destination from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore plus the narrow one-way streets, it would really be jam-packed with cars during the weekends.

Malacca is a vibrant old city that is very much wealthy in terms of history. The rich historical background of this lovely place earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation together with Penang in July 2008. Some would say that this designation really helped increase the tourist influx.

one of the two newest source of pride for Malaysian Tourism

one of the two newest source of pride for Malaysian Tourism

The taxi driver dropped us off around 15 minutes later in Jonker Walk, the short stretch in the heart of the city that is home to many stores selling all kinds of stuffs mostly to tourists. It was chaotic when we arrived there; the sidewalk of the narrow street was filled with people while the street itself was filled with cars.

taken in Jonkers Walk circa 2007

taken in Jonker Walk circa 2007

As this was an impulse trip to Malacca, we wasted no time in finding our accommodation for that night. We inquired first in Twenty Hostel as it was just along Jonker Walk; as we have stayed here last year, we know that this is a very good place to spend the night. Unfortunately, there were no vacancies (as I initially expected). Hopping on from one accommodation to another to inquire, the place was just either full or was just not to our liking.

Half an hour later, we decided to check the other side of town to check on some more hostels. Along the way, we passed by the Heritage Area. It is very distinct because of the bright brick red color; I just learned that several years back, the government decided to paint the area with such color as the constant spitting by passers-by was proving a nuisance to aesthetic value of the historical attractions.

We managed to get a decent accommodation a few hundred meters away from the Heritage Area. A small affordable room with aircon and private toilet pretty much was enough for us; quite affordable as well at 70 MYR but definitely there are much better accommodation elsewhere. As it was still very hot outside, I took a nap for an hour.

The temperature outside was already bearable when we went out. We took a quick stroll and found ourselves in the foot of Bukit China. Poh San Teng Temple was built at the foot of the hill in 1795 as a graveyard temple. The well of Hang Li Po stood beside the temple; it was built in the 14th century and has served throughout the early years as a main source of water in the area.

taken at the gates of Poh San Teng Temple (circa 2007 again!)

taken at the gates of Poh San Teng Temple (circa 2007 again!)

the Hang Li Po Well - main source of water in the past

the Hang Li Po Well - main source of water in the past

We made our way up Bukit China; a hill that was used as a graveyard by the early Chinese settlers in Malacca. It was said that it was the biggest Chinese cemetery outside China and has several graves dating back to the Ming dynasty. Today though, it serves as a jogging track for the locals. The hill also offers an excellent view of the city.

A grave marker in Bukit China

A grave marker in Bukit China

As it was already sunset when we reached the top of Bukit China, we slowly made out way down not long afterwards. Definitely no one would want to get caught in the dark in a cemetery.

To be continued…

On our 3rd day in Jogjakarta, we didn’t have to rush so early in the morning. I got up from bed at past eight already. I took a shower and we availed of the free breakfast of Merbabu Hotel in their mini restaurant located at the top floor, the third storey to be exact. From the restaurant, the roof of the surrounding buildings can be seen.

a view of Gang I from the top of Hotel Merbabu

a view of Gang I from the top of Hotel Merbabu

Food was nothing to rave about as it was just continental breakfast. I was thinking the other day that nothing really beats the breakfasts they serve back home in the Philippines; I miss all the LOGS that I can practically imagine (tapsilog, tocilog, longsilog, bangsilog, etc…)

We were out of the hotel at past 9:30 AM and headed out towards Malioboro Street. It was a long stretch of road in which all kinds of souvenir are being sold. The were persistent touts who would go near us and just start talking; they will still continue talking for a while even if you ignore them and walk away. Funny thing is that, I do not understand a single word they say. We bought some items; all of them were heavily discounted from the original price they quote. In this place, heavy bargaining is an essential in almost all aspects.

There was a Dunkin Donut store along Malioboro Street; we eagerly went inside as it had been a while since I had their doughnuts. First thing I noticed is that the outlet here in Jogja was very different from the ones back in the Philippines as they are definitely more upscale. This probably explained why there were no customers inside except us. We stayed there for more than 30 minutes to cool ourselves and to enjoy their iced coffee.

Continuing our stroll, we encountered many more stall along the way. Most of them are selling the same kind of goods (e.g. batik goods, t-shirts, handicrafts, etc). The touts are still there and it was beginning to become a challenge to shake them off.  

Towards the end of the road, we took a detour in Benteng Vredeburg.  This Dutch-era fort located opposite the main post office was built in the mid-1700. The restored fort is now a museum with dioramas showcasing the history of the independence movement in Jogja. The architecture is worth a look and it is relatively clean compared to the rest of the area in the city. Although we can’t relate to the dioramas (as it was Jogjakarta history and most scene descriptions were written in Bahasa Indonesia), we very much enjoyed the cool air-conditioned room.

inside the walls of

inside the walls of Benteng Vredeburg

It was already almost noontime when we went out of Benteng Vredeburg; since we were not that interested in seeing surrounding attractions, we hired a becak for 10,000 IDR to take us back to Jalan Sosrowijayan.

The ride took more than 10 minutes; the poor old man driving the becak was sweating when we arrived in the backpackers’ area. We quickly headed back to Bedhot Resto for lunch.

the only place we ate in Jogja

our favorite place in the city

During the whole duration of this trip, I was very boring when it came to my food choices. I didn’t need a menu when I ordered my steak. No offence intended but I never was a fan of traditional Indonesian food and the last thing I would be doing on this particular trip would be to try the more exotic variety.

Our driver picked us up at exactly one in the afternoon. It turned out that it was only us who signed up for this trip and it means we will be having a private tour at a fraction of the price.

As we passed by this upscale mall in the city, I asked the driver to turn around and park for a while as I wanted to check if there is a Starbucks outlet. It turned out that there was one and they also sell the city mugs. I got the big mug for my mom; the only available mini mugs they have is the 5-piece collector set which I already got before during a family trip last February in Jakarta. The price for the big mug was very cheap at 85,000 IDR and it came with a free frappuccino – not bad at all!

IMG_7676

this is for you Mom!

We went back to the van with the loot in our hand as well as the ice-cold coffee frappuccino. It took us less than half an hour to reach the Prambanan Temple. The driver arranged for our tickets while I arranged to hire a tour guide which cost us 60,000 IDR.

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Central Java, Indonesia and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a tall and pointed structure which is common amongst Hindu temples. Our tour guide, Ibrahim, mentioned that amongst the temple ruins scattered around the temple complex, only a few can be restored as reconstruction can only be done if 75% of the original stones are available. Most of the original stonework had been stolen during the early 19th century.

The three major temples in the complex are still currently off limits to the public as these were badly damaged during the 2006 earthquake that rocked central Java. Ibrahim led us to the shrine in front of the Shiva temple; inside was the statue of Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. He explained to us that the shrines in front of the three main temples are each dedicated to the vehicles of the 3 main Hindu gods.

the sacred bull, Nandi

the sacred bull, Nandi

Finally, Ibrahim led us to the back of the ruins where he said that it was a good spot to take photos. He offered to take a snap of us with the temple ruins as the background before saying “my guided tour ends here, please feel free to roam around…

The information given by the tour guide was appreciated but it was simply not worth the cost as the tour was simply too short, probably less than half an hour. Oh well, at least he captured an excellent snap – I forgave him for this.

this snap is worth 60,000 IDR

I paid 60,000 IDR for this snap

taken behind the temples

taken from behind the temple complex

It took us more than another hour before we headed out of the temple. There was a small museum just beside the temple complex which housed various artifacts dug from the surrounding area. The make-shift train ride going to the outlying temple Candi Sewu was worth trying as well, ticket is sold at 5,000 IDR per person.

stone pieces from the temple ruins

stone pieces from the temple ruins

the train going to Candi Sewu

the train going to Candi Sewu

We continued to our next destination, Parangtritis Beach, about an hour away from Prambanan Temple. This famous area is located about 35 km to the south of Jogjakarta. The primary attraction of this beach is its natural view. Standing from the seashore, the wide ocean with violent high waves and wide stretch of green mountains on the eastern side is indeed a splendid sight. But what is breath-taking was the gentle and silent setting of the sun amidst the sound of the waves, laughter and screams of people both young and old and the harsh bustle of the wind.

wonderful landscape...

wonderful landscape...

fiery sunset

fiery sunset

We stayed in the beach for a good thirty minutes, enjoying the sun setting while munching on a grilled sweet corn we bought from a local vendor. It was a perfect afternoon, the sky was clear and the breeze was chilly. I managed to get worthwhile snaps of this great view. Afterwards it was another long ride going back to the city.

a rider heading towards the sunset...

a rider heading towards the sunset...

The van dropped us at Gang II. As we were very hungry, we headed towards our food refuge — Bedhot Resto. This time, there were lots of tourists around; most of them were familiar faces in the area. We managed to get a table at the center of the restaurant; once again I ordered my usual steak. While waiting, I wrote down in my small notebook the highlights for the day.

Though tomorrow will be another normal workday for me, it’s worth remembering that this short 3-day getaway has led me to two of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I will bid goodbye to this part of Indonesia tomorrow, I will be back in two weeks to explore another part of this country.

The phone rang at exactly 4:30 in the morning; it was room service calling as I requested for a wake-up call for the Borobudur sunrise activity. First thing I did was to go out of our hotel room and check whether the sky was clear or not, after all I would not want to waste 150,000 IDR (per person) for the activity. As the sky was clear, we decided to give it a go.

We were in the lobby before five to collect our flashlights and tickets and meet the guide, who will lead the group on the way to the temple. There were other guests, as well, who will be joining us to watch sunrise from the top of Borobudur. Shortly after, we were on our way to the temple. As it was still dark, we made use of the flashlights to stay within the paved path. And in less than 10 minutes, we were once again on top of the massive Buddhist temple.

It was somehow cold while we were waiting for the sun to rise. Unlike our adventure last week in Siem Reap, there wasn’t any coffee available to help keep us warn. I had to settle with rubbing my hands against each other. We found a good place on the eastern side, and from there we waited patiently for the sun.

the sun rising from Mt Merapi

the sun rising from Mt Merapi

At first we thought that the sunrise would disappoint us, (just like our sunrise tour in Cameron Highlands several months back) – fortunately for us, we got lucky this time. The sun rising from Mt Merapi was a beautiful sight to behold. Taking advantage of the very good light, we took snaps randomly as the sky was beginning to change color. Since we didn’t hire a tour guide this time, we just made use of my tripod. The morning mist hanging over the surrounding hills was a sight to behold.

noticed the mist in the mountains?

noticed the mist in the mountains?

a row of headless Buddha statues

a row of headless Buddha statues

As the sun was inching higher in the sky, more and more tourists were beginning to appear inside the temple. We took it as a sign to go back to the hotel and enjoy the buffet breakfast waiting for their guests. Sadly though the breakfast was nothing special and I was disappointed with what I ate.

finding enlightenment from Buddha

finding enlightenment from Buddha

I managed to catch up on my sleep and woke up at around 11, with just enough time to pack things up. We checked out at exactly noontime. It was still very hot outside so we decided to stay a bit in the lobby. There, it was very relaxing as breeze just simply flows from everywhere; the sounds coming from the bamboo chimes were like a lullaby that was tempting us to sleep in our comfortable chairs.

i will miss you Manohara...

i will miss you Manohara...

We left the Manohara compound at around two in the afternoon. It may have an imperfect breakfast but everything else there was fantastic. It was truly a good place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of living in the city.

We found our way to the main road and started looking for our transportation back to Jogja. The idea of taking a bus ride was scratched out and we decided to take a private car going back to the city. Best bet to get some ride was the entrance of the Borobudur temple; upon entering the gate we were immediately surrounding by persistent touts who sell various kinds of stuffs. They were very persistent such that after saying “no” and “thank you”, they would continue doing the sales talk in Bahasa (as if we understand a word they say).

Finally a vendor who can speak English approached us; he asked us if we are looking for a ride back to the city as he has a friend who can take us there. I asked him the price and he quoted 300,000 IDR. I blatantly told him I am not falling for that outrageous price. I quoted I will only pay 125,000 and we walked away. To make the long story short, we agreed on a price of 150,000 IDR after ten minutes of negotiation.

A few minutes later, we were on a dilapidated van going back to the city. Apart from the brief stop-over at the Mendut temple (located a few kilometers away from Borobudur), it was a straight trip to Jogja.

the monastery in Mendut

the monastery in Mendut

We were dropped off in Jalan Sosrowijayan and headed towards Gang II to inquire about the place we wanted but unfortunately it was still fully booked. I asked for a recommendation on where we could stay and they pointed us towards this place in Gang I called Hotel Merbabu. Upon checking the available rooms, we found it to be good enough for the next two nights and so we took it. Rate was fairly cheap at 160,000 IDR per night, which comes with free breakfast.

Wasting no time, we got ourselves a hotel room and quickly inquired about the Ramayana Ballet. The tour operator told us that the last show for the week would be tonight, so we immediately bought tickets (50,000 IDR) and as well availed of the transportation service going to the program venue (another 50,000 IDR), which was near Prambanan Temple.

Since we still have enough time, we decided to have an early dinner at Bedhot Resto in Gang II. It was a simple restaurant but it was clean and has an excellent ambiance (think rustic beach restaurants in Boracay with a Reggae theme). The food was okay as well, with a whole range of choices. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood to experiment anymore on local dishes so I opted for a steak – such a steal at a cost of less than 5 SGD if converted.

Bedhot also offer tour packages to various sights in and around Jogja. Since I noticed that prices of the tours being offered are more or less the same, I decided to get our transportation for the following day to Prambanan Temple from this restaurant. This included a sunset side trip to Parangtritis Beach. The price for this was 260,000 IDR – somehow expensive but I tried to justify it because the entrance ticket to Prambanan was already included (this normally costs 12 USD).

Just immediately after dinner, we were picked up by the van which took us to the Ramayana Ballet venue. The ride took more than an hour as we picked-up several other tourists as well. We reach the place just before 7:30; just in time for us not to wait for a very long time before the program started.

The Ramayana Ballet is currently one of the most popular performances in town. On the night we watched it, it was held at an outdoor theater 16 km east of Yogyakarta, with the magnificent Prambanan Temple as the background. The program is based on a popular Hindu legend with gods, mortals, giants, monkeys and beautiful women as characters. Basically, it is an epic about good triumphing over evil. The hypnotic music from Javanese traditional musical instruments and the dramatic stage lighting makes this performance a must for any traveler in Jogja.

the Prambanan Temple at night

the Prambanan Temple at night

a scene from Ramayana

a scene from Ramayana

The program ended two hours after; we managed to get some quick photos together with some of the Ramayana casts before we went back to the city.

goofing around with Ravana

goofing around with Ravana

the lead star, Rama

the lead star, Rama

While on our way back, all I can think off was to get into my bed and call it a night. It was a quite a tiring day as we started it very early and I was terribly exhausted with all the time spent on the road. Tomorrow would be more relaxed as the tour will not start until after lunch. If we can manage to wake up early, it might probably a good opportunity to explore the area near Jalan Sosrowijayan & Malioboro Street.

Another early weekend for me, the past four days has been really quick. I finished work at around 2 in the morning. My clothes were already ready beforehand so I jut did some last minute research about our weekend destination, Yogyakarta (pronounced as Jogjakarta by Indonesians), before I decided to call it a night and catch some sleep. No time pressure on being really early in the airport as Air Asia offered online check-in to passengers.

I managed to wake up at 7:30; I realized that it has been a while since I woke up this early. The last time I managed to catch the early morning sun in Singapore was when we accompanied Nina of Just Wandering, to explore the tiny island of Pulau Ubin.

I took my time to have breakfast and did some last minute preparation before heading out of the apartment at around quarter past nine. 

The train ride to Terminal 1 of Changi airport (including inter-airport transfers) took roughly 45 minutes. There was only less than an hour before the departure time, we immediately headed towards the boarding gate. Boarding commenced on time however it took another 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time before QZ 7139 was airborne. 

The plane ride was serviced by Air Asia Indonesia and the first thing that I noticed was the piped-in in-house FM station which I thought was a brilliant idea as it made the 130 minutes flying time to Jogja a lot less boring. The flight attendant though who made the announcements was very bad in her English; it was barely understandable. 

We were served hot meals as we pre-ordered food when we bought our tickets. I ordered Asian fried rice, which came with 2 sticks of beef satay. I did not like my lunch as I found it too dry. I would have been better off had I settled for a cup noodle.

Airline Food, will you like this?!

Airline Food, will you like this?!

All in all, it was not so bad. It was totally worth the 80 SGD I paid for the roundtrip ticket, which included the crappy meal and the advance seat request fee. I will still fly Air Asia again.

The plane landed in Adi Sucipto International Airport at around quarter to one, it was slightly delayed. The airport is very small with only one runway and it reminded me of the domestic airport back home in Cagayan de Oro.

QZ 7139 at the Jogja tarmac

QZ 7139 at the Jogja tarmac

It was a mess getting past immigration as they only have 2 counters. I would say that it took us more than half an hour before we were cleared. First thing we did was to get some Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). There was this sole money changer inside the airport, which gave us a very crappy rate. In their chalkboard, 1 SGD is equal to 6,400 IDR (in XE Universal Currency Converter it was 1 SGD to 6,900 IDR) – so I decided to just change 10 SGD, just enough to pay for our taxi fare going to the city. They gave me just 60,000 IDR stating that it was small bill – in my mind I was screaming that I was being screwed but unfortunately I didn’t have any choice.

long lines enroute to the Jogja immigration counter

long line to the Jogja immigration counter

We bought a taxi coupon for 50,000 IDR. This took us to Jalan Sosrowijayan, the backpacker area in Jogja. It was a 20 minute before we arrived in our destination. Jogja is a small city but you can also feel the vibrant environment as a result of the boom coming in mostly from the tourism industry. 

Upon getting out from the taxi, we were immediately greeted by this man who asked us if we have accommodations already. I told him that we have made reservations already to drive him away. I manage to find a money changer in the street, which offered a much more decent rate. I immediately had our pocket money changed and instantly I became a millionaire!

We found our way into Gang (alleyway) II to inquire for a room tomorrow and Sunday from this guesthouse that is highly recommended by Lonely Planet. It must be really popular as we were told that they are currently full but we could check again by tomorrow.

As we will be staying in a hotel somewhere very close to Borobudur for the night, we availed of their shared taxi service going for 35,000 IDR. It was a good deal, as a private taxi would easily cost more than 4 times that said amount.

The ride going to our hotel was more an hour so I took that opportunity to get a quick sleep. When I woke up we were already inside the Manohara Hotel compound. Check-in was a breeze and I just provided my personal details as the payment was settled a week before. A complimentary welcome drink was given in their spacious open-air lobby before we were lead into our room.

enjoying coffee at the Manohara Lobby

enjoying coffee at the Manohara Lobby

We just dropped our bags and we immediately made our way towards the Borobudur temple as it was already nearing sunset then. The concierge told us to just follow the pathway if we want to go to the temple; I was surprised it was just 5 minutes away. 

Borobudur glowing at sunrise

Borobudur glowing at sunset

The Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a stunning reminder of the Buddhist days in Java. Almost all over the temple complex you can see a statue of a Buddha, most of them headless. We explored our way the four square terrace going up in a clockwise direction. There are bas-reliefs all over the place, which depicted mostly on scenes from the life of Buddha. I noticed that the bas-reliefs were somehow crudely made as compared to the ones in Angkor Wat but nonetheless it is still a sight to behold.

one of the hundreds of Buddha statue all over the temple

one of the hundreds of Buddha statue all over the temple

a portion of one of the four square terrace

a portion of one of the four square terrace

bas-relief in one of the terraces

bas-relief in one of the terraces

The structure opens up into another four circular terrace in which many latticed stupas can be found as well. Inside these latticed stupas are half hidden Buddha statues (many of them are headless as well). At the center of the topmost terrace is the huge central stupa

one of the many headless Buddha

one of the many headless Buddha

Mr Whattaworld and the central stupa

Mr Whattaworld and the central stupa

As the breeze was very wonderful, we sat for a while facing west and enjoyed watching the sun slowly setting. We managed to take some wonderful snaps before they announced that the temple would be closing. A few minutes after, the guards were already going around and politely asked us to leave.

view of the eastern gate from the top

view of the eastern gate from the top

one last snap of us before leaving the temple

one last snap of us before leaving the temple

We started walking back into the hotel in a slow pace enjoying the cool afternoon air. Upon reaching our room, I tried watching TV. I immediately gave up since most channels are in Bahasa Indonesia in which I cannot understand. I then began writing this entry; shortly after I finish this we will probably have an early dinner. I hope to sleep early as we want to witness sunrise tomorrow from the top of Borobudur.

sunset from Borobudur

sunset from Borobudur

Angkor Temple Adventure

14 August 2009

The 2nd day in Siem Reap started very early; the alarm went off at around 4:15 and we wasted no time and hurriedly prepared ourselves. Snacks, guidebooks, notebook and camera in tow, I was all set to witness the mystical sunrise once more in Angkor Wat.

We went down from our room a good thirty minutes later and were met at the front desk by our guide whom we hired the day before through our guesthouse. We went on to meet Seth, who was patiently waiting for us (we agreed to be fetched at 4:30 AM), in the main road. Immediately we went inside the tuktuk and headed towards Angkor Wat.

While on our way, our tour guide introduced himself as Vanna. He is a 24-year-old guy who has been in the tour guiding industry for the past three years. He came from a village just outside Phnom Penh and came to Siem Reap in order to earn a living from the booming tourism industry.

A good 20 minutes later, we were outside the western gate of Angkor Wat. Briefly we stopped just before we reached the first causeway and Vanna explained some basic stuff we need to know about the temple.

It was still a bit dark when we entered the temple grounds but you can clearly notice that the color of the sky on the east was beginning to change and brighten. It was a chilly dawn, the air was cool and damp – a hot cup of coffee would be more than welcome at that very moment. Unfortunately there wasn’t any establishment in sight; we continued walking until we went past the front gate and into the second causeway. From there, we can already see the spires of Angkor Wat.

Vanna suggested that we find a good place somewhere near the northern pond as that spot offered one of the best places to witness sunrise. We were not surprised to see other tourists who came much earlier than us and already positioned themselves for the much-awaited sunrise.

when it was still dark

view from the northern pond when it was still dark

As if the gods heard my longing for a hot cup of coffee, a woman approached me and said “buy hot coffee from me sir for 1 dollar and I will lend you a chair” – I said “sure, give me 2 cups of coffee and 2 chairs”. A few minutes later, we were comfortably seated very near the northern pond with a hot cup of coffee in hand.

enjoying a cup in hand

enjoying a cup in hand

The wait for the sun to rise from behind Angkor Wat was one of those rare moments in my life as a traveler wherein I really felt a sense of inner peace within myself. In that brief moment, I sat down, enjoyed my coffee and really savored the moment without a care in the world. Cheesy as it may sound but yes, I considered it as one of those magical moments in my life. It really was a joy and beauty to see the sky brighten up and changed colors while the rays of the sun slowly light up the ruins of the ancient temple.

i traveled a thousand miles for glimpse of this...

i traveled a thousand miles for a glimpse of this...

there were a lot of us actually

there were a lot of us actually

We finished the sunrise viewing with a photo taken by Vanna, it was his first shot of us and it was a lovely shot.

Vanna has an eye

Vanna has an eye

Afterwards we started the tour of Angkor Wat; we entered the temple from the NW entrance. The bas-relief on the Battle of Lanka was explained to us, we learned from thereon that this was one of the more famous Hindu legends in Cambodia.

churning of the sea of milk

churning of the sea of milk

We moved in a counter clockwise direction with Vanna carefully explaining to us the meaning of the various reliefs and pointed out the important sections of the gallery. There are some sections of the gallery wherein the reliefs looked like polished sandstone; this was the result of years of rubbing by pilgrims.

the Hindu god Vishnu

the Hindu god Vishnu

We spent probably at least an hour and a half inside Angkor Wat before my stomach went grumbling; I guess it was telling me that it was time to have breakfast. I let Vanna and Seth decide on where we will eat as I have read somewhere that they will be getting free food for every tourist they bring to the food establishment; getting free food will certainly go a long way to these guys. They took us to this small Khmer restaurant inside the ancient city Angkor Thom where I ordered a spicy Khmer beef dish. It turned out to be very good; these guys know the places to eat.

the victory gate in Angkor Thom

the victory gate in Angkor Thom

The next 2 hours after breakfast, we explored the ruins inside Angkor Thom. We restarted our tour at the Bayon; this is one of the most famous creations of the god-king Jayavarman VII. There were bas-reliefs in this temple as well, which depicted everyday life in ancient Cambodia. The highlight of this particular ruins are the 54 stone towers that each comes with 4 mysterious faces.

one of the 216 mysterious stone faces in the Bayon

one of the 216 mysterious stone faces in the Bayon

From the Bayon, we stopped by the Terrace of the Elephant and the Terrace of the Leper King. The famous Jayavarman VII (or simply J-7 according to Vanna) also built these two structures.

the statue of the Leper King

the statue of the Leper King

We left Angkor Thom shortly after and headed out towards Ta Prohm. This particular temple was pretty much left in the same condition as when it was found. The giant trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings helped made this ruin becoming one of the most popular temples with visitors. And yes, this was again built by J-7; specifically as a temple to honor his mother.

the temple taken over by the forest

the temple taken over by the forest

Mr Whattaworld versus the trees

Mr Whattaworld versus the tree

Ta Prohm from afar

Ta Prohm from afar

Pretty much exhausted from all the walking and the heat of the sun, we left Ta Prohm at slightly past noontime. We had lunch at a small Khmer restaurant recommended by Vanna before we headed out towards Kbal Spean, a temple that is more than an hour away from the city.

As it was a very long tuktuk ride, the breeze was too much to resist. I managed to get some shut-eye for more than half the time on the way to our destination.

I arrived refreshed from that brief siesta which turned out to be good, as we needed to hike uphill for approximately 1.5 km before actually reaching Kbal Spean. It took us approximately 30 minutes before we reached the site. Not much to see here except for some stone carving in the riverbeds depicting Hindi gods. There was a small waterfall nearby, it was just too bad that we were not aware of this otherwise we could have brought with us extra clothing for swimming.

carvings by the river bed

carvings by the river bed

the waterfall near Kbal Spean

the waterfall near Kbal Spean

Another 30 minutes of trekking going down plus another 30 minutes in the tuktuk and we arrived in our final destination, Banteay Srei – a site that was highly recommended by my brother. Arguably, this is considered by many as the crown jewel amongst the Angkor temples. Although very small in size as compared to the other ruins, it makes up in its carvings, which are very fine and intricate. Easily, this became my new favorite temple.

intricate carvings in Banteay Srei

intricate carvings in Banteay Srei

main entrance of Banteay Srei

main entrance of Banteay Srei

the three small towers of Banteay Srei

the three small towers of Banteay Srei

It was already past 5 in the afternoon when we headed back to town; we were very tired, weary and dirty from a fully packed whole day temple tour but nonetheless we were very happy and we got a dose of a good adventure.

It really helped a lot that we got a guide for this as it enabled us to understand and appreciate the wonderful ruins that we saw. It also helped a lot that Vanna can take good photos, so at least we got to document wonderful snaps for posterity sake. If you happen to be traveling in Siem Reap and would want to get a guide in the temple, please contact Vanna by email: cheavanna55@yahoo.com

We got back to our guesthouse at around 6 in the evening, we rested a bit and freshen up. We bought our van tickets to Phnom Penh and had a brief dinner for one last time in Siem Reap – at least for this particular trip that is.